Yoga originated in ancient India. In its original meaning, it was allied with mental and physical disciplines, but in modern times in the west has come to be mainly associated with its physical aspect, known by the Sanskrit word as Asana. Asana is a body position which is associated with the restoration and maintenance of the wellbeing of the individual who practices the art. Asana is only one of a number of aspects of yoga, the majority of which are associated with the spiritual and mental aspects.
The advantage that yoga enjoys over many other popular physical disciplines is the fact that it does not involve the body in stressful high-impact exercise. It is also performed in a non-competitive context so that the individual ego does get much of a chance to intrude into actions.
There are a number of postures or poses involved in yoga that are designed to increase the practitioner's strength and flexibility over time. No matter how inflexible you may be, there is always room for improvement, and your own individual progression is the only path that you need to be pursuing. Breath control and meditation may be included in yoga classes, depending on whether or not the individual teacher likes to involve some of the spiritual aspects of yoga with the physical aspects.
There are many different styles of yoga classes available. They are all involved with the same basic postures, but each style emphasizes different aspect of the exercise, such as Vinyasa, which involves the breath being in concert with the physical movements, or Ashtanga, which is a faster style and is also referred to as Power Yoga. Iyengar is concerned with the alignment of the body during the exercises. Another style with a strong emphasis on the breath is Kundalini, the purpose of which is the upper movement of energy within the body. Some of the other yoga styles are Sivananda, Kripalu, Anusara, and Jivamukti.
The basic postures include:
Sukhasana or sit / easy position, which creates an awareness of breathing and strengthens the lower back and opens the hips and groin
Dog and Cat, which makes the spine more flexible.
Tadasana or Mountain position which is a standing position which is designed to improve balance and posture.
Trikonasana or Triangle, which is a spine stretching exercise.
Bhujangasana or the Cobra, which also stretches the spine, strengthening the back and the arms, and opening the chest and heart.
Virabhadrasana or Warrior, which is an arm and leg strengthening exercise as well being an aide to improving balance.
Uttanasana or Forward Bend and Extension which stretches the spine and legs, and gives the neck and the heart a rest and is relaxing for the body and mind.
Savasana or The Corpse, which relieves stress and is relaxing for both mind and body.
Sethu Bandhasa or The Bridge, which is designed to improve flexibility and to make the abdominal muscles and lower back stronger.
Janu Shirshasana or Head to Knee, which increases flexibility while stretching the hamstrings and the back.
Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog, which improves flexibility and strength while stretching the hamstrings and spine and resting the heart.
Ardha Sarvangasana or Half Shoulder stand which is good for improving the circulation of the blood, while stretching the upper back region and strengthening the abdominal muscles. It also helps to promote improved function of the thyroid gland.
So if you feel that you wish to pursue some path to fitness and wellbeing, and the thought of pounding the pavements and putting up with sweaty gyms does not appeal to you, then the gentle art of yoga may be just what your inner doctor ordered.